Wood Buffalo councillors split on support for Fort McMurray camp moratorium

A tie-vote Tuesday night at Wood Buffalo council means a proposed moratorium on work camps within 75 kilometres of Fort McMurray will move forward.

Proposed moratorium still a go after motion to rescind ends in a tie vote

Worker camp housing projects at the Suncor Firebag in-situ oilsands operations near Fort McMurray, Alberta, September 17, 2014. (Todd Korol/Reuters)

After four hours of sometimes-heated discussion and debate about the proposed moratorium on work camps near Fort McMurray, the Wood Buffalo council ended divided on whether it is a good idea.

The tie vote on a motion to rescind the moratorium proposal means council will move ahead with its proposed plan to deny permits for the renewal of existing camps and  the construction of new ones within the 75 kilometres of the northeastern Alberta city.  

"I don't think a moratorium is what we need right now," said Coun. Verna Murphy, who introduced the motion at council's Tuesday night meeting. 

The proposed moratorium was introduced in January by Mayor Don Scott. At that time, councillors voted unanimously to support a moratorium on oilsands camps within the region. 

On Tuesday, Murphy argued that the moratorium isn't a sign of good faith between industry and the municipality. She wants to work alongside Jason Kenney, who is putting forward bills to encourage industry growth in the province.

She added it seems hypocritical for council to introduce a moratorium on camps at the same time that Wood Buffalo councillors are travelling to Ottawa to lobby the government for a pipeline.   

"I think it really takes that collaborative effort with industry to get some really good results: lobby to get the roads paved, get that north [Highway] 63 twinned."

Coun. Verna Murphy says she thinks it is not the right time to put in a work camp moratorium. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Scott fought hard to quash Murphy's motion, providing a counterpoint to almost every argument favouring rescinding the moratorium.

"This municipality is completely in control of camps," said Scott. "Every time we grant a permit, we lower our sustainability.

"We need this community and this region to be successful."

The discussion became heated when Karim Zariffa, executive director of the Oil Sands Community Alliance,delivered a presentation to council in which he reiterated the alliance's arguments against the moratorium.

He said it "will further diminish industry's competitiveness and deter new capital to the region."

Scott questioned Zariffa on the progress that industry and the municipality have made over the last two years, to which Zariffa referenced a park-and-ride as well as industry commitment to hiring locally.

I want people to start respecting this community.- Mayor Don Scott

After a short back-and-forth between the two parties, Murphy called for a point of order.

"We're not in a courtroom," she said. "So I think we should respect the delegates that come to register." 

Scott replied: "I want people to start respecting this community. I was elected to represent the residents of this region. If you don't like that, you're probably not in the right spot."

After a short break, Scott apologized for his comments to Murphy and told Zariffa he hoped he didn't take any offence to his "hard questions."

Introducing incentives

At the special meeting, councillors voted in favour of introducing some incentives to keep fly-in, fly-out workers in the region.

The incentives include working with industry on transportation, making it easier and faster for workers to get to and from the job site to discourage living in work camps.

As well, the municipality is planning on working with industry to bring in a park-and-ride pilot project this summer; municipality administration said that a key concern that has come up in discussions with industry is worker safety, particularly with respect to workers who may be tired during long travel travel times to and from job sites.

The municipality is working with industry to bring in the pilot project this summer.

The first reading of the proposed camp moratorium will be on June 11.


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